My baby boy was beautiful, healthy, and perfect in every way. Except — he had colic and it was really, really hard.
Prior to this I didn’t really know what colic was, but I was about to find out first hand. The first two weeks were fine. He slept. He ate. He made silly and adorable newborn faces. He smelled better than the best chocolate chip cookies (insert your favorite dessert) ever made in history.
Other than the usual exhaustion that comes with being a new parent, we were sailing along swimmingly. I went through some of the typical first-time-mom breastfeeding challenges. We worked through them and eventually it got easier. My son was gaining weight and everything checked out great at our pediatrician visits.
And then week three hit and that’s when it began.
My cute-as-a-button baby boy turned into a crying, unhappy, fussy, angry, little man. His colicky bursts occurred most afternoons and every single evening for hours.
Each time we always checked all of the usual suspects. Is he cold? Too warm? Wet or poopy diaper? Overstimulated, tired, hungry, fever, sick? Is there an invisible hair wrapped around one of his tiny fingers or toes cutting off his circulation? Are the lights too bright? Does he not like the color of the wall paint in this room? Too beige? Too green? Maybe we should have gone with a bluey-grey color. Should I change the TV channel? Not a fan of Animal Planet? Do I have bad breath? Is there anything else wrong? That’s truly how it felt trying to figure this out. Of course we remedied anything that was obvious: change the diaper, feed the baby, etc. But that wasn’t it, because the colicky crying continued.
I spent most of my time holding him, rocking him, shushing him, walking him, swaying with him, singing to him and soothing him in any way I could.
White noise helped a little.
You could often find me rocking him in my arms while standing in the bathroom of our apartment (of all places) where the white noise from the extraction fan was the loudest. He lasted all of 2 minutes in the baby swing, before I had to pick him up. I anxiously worried and wanted nothing more than to make him feel better.
Bringing my baby out in the world was sometimes heartbreaking. I recall one friend describing my son to another person like this: “He’s sooooo cute, but he pretty much cries the entire time.”
I’ll be honest — it was very tiring and very, very frustrating. One dreams of becoming a new mom and the joy, beauty and gloriousness of taking care of that sweet, darling, new baby. But this part — this colicky, fussy, crying baby was none of the things that dreams are made of. Undoubtedly I loved him with every fiber of my being, dedicatedly cared for him 24/7 and still we were pretty miserable.
Is my baby broken? Did I bring this about somehow? These worries were not alleviated by an uninformed mother-in-law who gave me her more than two cents of unsolicited advice.
Ultimately, what I learned is that experts and doctors really don’t know what causes colic.
There are lots of possible theories: gas, a developing digestive or nervous system, sensitivity to stimulation, an early form of childhood migraine, the list goes on. However, there is nothing conclusive. One can try numerous remedies to make it better and perhaps they will work. Though often nothing actually fixes colic and you just have to wait it out.
Colic almost always goes away on its own by age three or four months.
In a way, this is really good news. But when I heard my pediatrician say that I might have to persevere through three or four months for this stage to pass, I felt helpless and apathetic. Also, what if his colic doesn’t end at three or four months? Then what?
I didn’t let these fearful thoughts fester too long. I just couldn’t. My ever-optimistic nature carried me through and I decided to hold on tightly to the hope that he WOULD definitely grow out of this stage. It had to be true! So I counted down the days until we got to the end of the colicky road.
Of course, in the meantime I did a lot of research and tried recommendations from our pediatrician, chiropractor, the internet, family and friends. Making my baby feel better was all that mattered.
Things that we tried and how they worked out for us:
1. At the pediatrician’s suggestion, after each feeding I held my baby in an upright position for at least 20 minutes to ensure that he had plenty of time to let out any air or gas that might have gotten trapped during feeding. This did seem to help a tiny bit so it became routine for us. Patting him to help him burp didn’t really make much difference. He would burp on his own whether I helped him or not. (Read more about this here.)
2. Elimination diet. At the direction of the pediatrician I tried eliminating foods from my diet that might possibly be causing an allergic or bad reaction for my baby through my breast milk. I eliminated one food at a time to see if it made a difference. She listed: dairy, eggs, nuts, soy and gluten. The only one that seemed to make a tiny bit of difference was dairy. It was hard to be sure, but I stayed off dairy as much as possible for my baby. This did not last the entire three months for me though because: cheese.
3. Chiropractic Care. We took the baby to a chiropractor who did a very gentle chiropractic adjustment on my son. She also recommended we try giving him baby probiotics. Her theory was that due to the antibiotics and medications we had during my c-section this might have caused some upset in his gut. She recommended putting a teeny, tiny amount of probiotics in powder form on my nipple or finger and then putting it in his mouth. We tried this once. Within a few minutes of him consuming the probiotics he was in a full-blown outburst of crying, fussing and arching his back in pain. I believe that he was not ready for the probiotics at all and it only made things worse. So we never did this again. Lesson learned for us. I felt so bad that it caused him more pain.
4. Gripe water. There are all kinds of gripe water products on the market that claim to help with gas or tummy issues for babies. They usually contain a mixture of different natural herbs or ingredients and they can be purchased over the counter without a prescription. Most of them didn’t do anything for us. I eventually tried one that had charcoal in it. This one seemed to help a little bit sometimes, but it was not a consistent remedy for us.
5. White noise & motion. As mentioned earlier our baby loved white noise, rocking or some kind of motion and we provided this as often and as much as possible, aka all the time. This is pretty typical of most newborns because it mimics being in the womb.
Overall our strategy truly was one of just getting through it day by day as best we could.
We still had lots of good moments, good days and so much love to give and receive from our adorable boy. In the midst of a crying session time moved slowly and three hours of fussiness felt like three years. In spite of that, one day after three months of living with colic, things just magically started to change and get better exactly like the pediatrician said they would. His crying and discomfort reduced and eventually it was a long forgotten memory.
I now know that having more support at the time would have made it easier. Good, non-judgemental support. A postpartum doula sharing the load, giving me a break and validating my feelings would have been beyond ahmazing!
Looking back on it now, it feels like a tiny part of our story. Eventually you make it through and realize what a resilient and good parent you are. Eventually your baby grows into his new little body and is comfortable and strong. You’ll know that the pay-off of life with your children is always worth the struggles. Just like getting through morning sickness or a crazy labor and birth was worth it too. Hold on tight. You can do this!